MASON CITY, Iowa – Byron Hartley’s (Philadelphia, Pa./Philly Little Flyers 18U) family came from 1,100 miles away to see him play this weekend against the Minot Minotauros, with player families coming from across the country for the team’s billet and player family weekend.
They picked the right weekend to see him play, against the right opponent – Hartley picked up two goals and an assist on Friday night, his sixth and seventh markers against the Minotauros this year, and North Iowa made a much-needed return to the win column with a 5-3 victory over Minot. The win, coupled with a Bismarck Bobcats loss to St. Cloud, moved the Bulls back within five points of a Robertson Cup playoff spot with seven games remaining.
“I love the rivalry,” said Hartley. “Everything feeds the energy, and everyone gets so into the game – bigger hits, bigger plays. I have a great time playing them. It feels great, finally being able to gut one out – how many close games have we gotten into where something just didn’t go our way?”
North Iowa continued its trademark run of hot starts, putting away two goals in the opening 6:12 of the contest. Hartley picked up the primary assist on the game’s first goal, picking up a rebound off of a miss wide from Max Scott (San Jose, Calif./Amarillo Bulls) and sending it up the wall to Greg Japchen (Doylestown, Pa./Amarillo Bulls), who tunneled a shot through the traffic to beat Lassi Lehti at 4:14 of the first.
Less than two minutes later, Hunter Bulger (St. Louis, Mo./St. Louis Blues AAA) went to the top of the net on a loose puck in front of the net to double the lead. North Iowa’s defense was never severely tested in the opening 20 minutes, with North Iowa taking a 10-5 shots-on-goal advantage to the locker room.
The Minotauros sprinted out of the gate in the second period, though, firing off nine of the first 10 shots and trimming the lead to one on a Colby Joseph rebound chance at 2:41 of the period. The Bulls needed almost 10 minutes to craft the response, but Hartley extended the lead back to two, finishing off a 3-on-2 off of a cross-ice pass from Sean Vlasich (Upper Saddle River, N.J./Amarillo Bulls) with 7:30 remaining in the period.
“We buried our chances,” said Hartley. “Tonight, we were making passes, making plays, and we buried (those chances) when we needed to.
The final three goals of the period came in a rush – with 4:09 left, Braydon Beahm buried a turnaround shot in the slot with Minot on a power play following a holding call against Andrew Stacey (Toledo, Ohio/Tri-State Spartans 18U). Just 19 seconds later, Logan Dombrowsky (Stevens Point, Wis./Amarillo Bulls) sprang Carter Rapalje (Burlington, Vt./Amarillo Bulls) loose through the neutral zone, and his forehand shot after a double-deke beat Lehti low to make it 4-2. David Nesburg’s shot from the slot 30 seconds later dropped the lead to 4-3, with North Iowa protecting a one-goal lead going to the third period.
Protecting the lead is exactly what they would do – the final stanza was an offensive stalemate, with both goaltenders posting a perfect period and combining for 16 saves. Only an empty-net marker from Hartley, coming from outside the blue line on the right wing with 1:13 remaining, would add onto the lead.
“When I scored my second goal, I locked eyes with my little brother,” said Hartley. “I can’t even describe the facial reaction – it was pure electricity. That’s a memory that’s going to stick with me forever, and I couldn’t be more grateful that they’re here.”
Joey Potter (Pittsburgh, Pa./Twin City Thunder) closed out the night for the Bulls with a pair of assists, while Cole Mickel and Joe Westlund matched that mark for Minot. Hunter Garvey (San Diego, Calif./Amarillo Bulls) added an assist, his first of the season, onto a 27-save performance for his 15th win of the season. Lehti was denied his 15th win, making 21 saves in the loss. Jack Phelan (Hinsdale, Ill./Chicago Mission 18U) notched a secondary assist on Rapalje’s game-winner, earning his first junior point as well.
The win ended a few stormy stretches for the Bulls, snapping a nine-game home losing streak dating back to January 1, and a skid against Central Division opponents dating back to February 5. North Iowa had dropped six in a row overall, following their sweep at the Springfield Jr. Blues in late February.
The victory also clinches the season series for North Iowa against the Minotauros, moving the Bulls to 22-23-3-5 on the year, while Minot dropped to 27-25-2-1 with the loss. The two teams meet up for the final time this season on Saturday night, with a rematch at the Mason City Arena. Billet and player families will be recognized with an on-ice presentation during the first intermission. The opening puck drop is slated for 7:30 p.m., with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV Presented by Dakota Fix Shelter Insurance and Mixlr.
Saturday’s game also marks the final jersey auction and postgame skate of the season, with the Bulls’ outdoors-themed jerseys set to be auctioned off following the contest. Proceeds from the postgame auction benefit Mason City Parks and Recreation. To purchase advance tickets to Saturday’s game or any upcoming North Iowa Bulls home game, call 641-423-4625 or click here. Updated news and information on North Iowa Bulls hockey are always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team’s social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Minot 0 3 0 – 3
North Iowa 2 2 1 – 5
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Japchen 11 (Hartley, Scott), 4:14. 2, North Iowa, Bulger 15 (Mexico, Potter), 6:12. Penalties-Brown Mnt (roughing-minor), 20:00; Scott Nio (roughing-minor), 20:00.
2nd Period-3, Minot, Joseph 20 (Brown, Westlund), 2:41. 4, North Iowa, Hartley 19 (Vlasich, LaRusso), 12:30. 5, Minot, Beahm 14 (Mickel, Westlund), 15:51 (PP). 6, North Iowa, Rapalje 25 (Dombrowsky, Phelan), 16:10. 7, Minot, Nesburg 9 (Karpman, Mickel), 16:40. Penalties-Westlund Mnt (roughing-minor), 6:33; Japchen Nio (head contact-major, head contact-gm), 6:33; Stacey Nio (roughing-minor), 6:33; Vlasich Nio (tripping-minor), 12:55; McGrath Mnt (hooking-minor), 13:39; Stacey Nio (holding-minor), 14:40.
3rd Period-8, North Iowa, Hartley 20 (Potter, Garvey), 18:47 (EN). Penalties-Karpman Mnt (slashing-minor), 7:50; Morich Nio (slashing-minor), 12:30.
Shots on Goal-Minot 5-16-9-30. North Iowa 10-8-8-26.
Power Play Opportunities-Minot 1 / 4; North Iowa 0 / 2.
Goalies-Minot, Lehti 14-17-2-1 (25 shots-21 saves). North Iowa, Garvey 15-16-1-5 (30 shots-27 saves).
Linesmen-Evan Davis, Jacob Rozenberg.